I’m with Lech – “Solidarity” needs an overhaul

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the “Gdansk Agreement”, a social contract between the people of Poland and the Communist government. This agreement was reached largely thanks to the actions of the workers at the then named “Lenin” shipyards in Gdansk. As a result of the agreement the worlds first non-communist party controlled, self governing, independent trade union in a Warsaw Pact country was born – Solidarity (Solidarność). It went on to reach far beyond the shipyard workers and at one time embraced more than 10 million members, 1/4 of the entire population. (today it has about 1 million) As we all know it went on to play a large part in the downfall of communism in Poland, if not further afield. As we also know, its first and most prominent leader was electrician, Lech Wałęsa, who went on to become the first democratically elected President of Poland. As is the way of life, Lech has lost ground since those days partly thanks to those closest to him having sharper political skills (and deeper personal ambition) and by others finding he was perhaps a little too much of an electrician to be running the country. The question is what has happened to Solidarity since those heady days of revolution?

To a bystander like myself, the main events celebrating this anniversary were the Solidarity Congress held on Monday and then on following days some concerts held in the dockyards. Watching the news on Monday evening I couldn’t help noticing how miserable everyone was looking at the congress. The President, Prime Minister and others were trying to speak while being jeered and whistled at by the bulk of the attendees while Kaczyński got a rousing reception as he waddled up to rant a little from the podium, a performance that brought to mind other historical figures skilled at persuading the great unwashed to blindly support them no matter what their real agenda might be. A sort of 40ish lady got up and gave everyone a piece of her mind about the whistling – good for her.

But I was taken aback by all this. You see, to us foreigners, Solidarity – that being the name, the ideals, the logo and Lech – is a symbol of something very special, of David beating Goliath, of the little people beating the establishment, of power to the people, something quite romantic, Europe’s own Fidel & Che. So, to see it having degenerated into a political pit-bull apparently under the control of Kaczyński is rather sad. Like turning positive energy into negative. Like Luke Skywalker giving in to the dark side, slipping on a black helmet and wheezing a lot.

“So where’s Lech?”, I asked. “He’s not there”, I was told. Lech not at the 30th birthday bash of Solidarność?! That’s like Prince Charles giving the Queen’s Christmas message – i.e. just plain wrong. So I read some articles and I find that Lech is saying, in effect, that he’s had it with Solidarity:

Speaking to Polish Radio Tuesday morning, Walesa said that Solidarity should “pack up its banners,” criticising that the trade union has become far too politicised.  “Poland needs Solidarity […] as a social movement, not as a trade union,” Walesa underlined.  In an interview with Polska The Times, the former Solidarity leader added that “the role of the [Solidarity] trade unions is not to my liking! […] I don’t feel like celebrating…”

Now, I understand there might be other motivations behind his absence but I find that his sentiments as expressed above are in harmony with my own feelings and so I say “Good for you Lech!”. As far as I, and Lech, can see, the Solidarity of today is a shadow of its former self, actually that’s being kind because it’s nothing like its former self it’s a completely different species and not one that we particularly like.

It’s a shame to see Macy Gray and all the other talent that keeps being shipped in every year to shout “I love you Poland!” and pretend to know anything about Poland or Solidarity in the hope it might be seen as cool or that the association with such a well known “brand” will bless them with a little street-cred. All those people know is the Solidarity whose anniversary we are celebrating but that Solidarity is long gone and all you’ve got now is another slimy political organisation with, apparently, no plans to do anything particularly “Robin Hoodish” anytime soon. I wonder if U2 and the like would bother if they really knew what was going on?

So yes, a “social movement” gets my vote. The name, the logo and the ideals are powerful and belong to the nation. They should have been taken care of and used to do good things, not for supporting idiot politicians of any persuasion. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, but it’s not too late. Please rescue what remains of the original Solidarność before it is beyond hope. The commies may be gone but there are plenty of other things that a properly managed Solidarity could be helping with both in Poland and outside. Let the politicians find themselves a different name and a different logo – how about “New Solidarity”?

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23 thoughts on “I’m with Lech – “Solidarity” needs an overhaul

  1. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. There will be no “new Solidarity”, because the people who are running the trade union now believe they are the one and only “true” Solidarity. If you don’t like it, go and find yourself another union, but do keep your hands off the logo, because it belongs to the “true” Solidarity. How else.

    It didn’t happen to just Solidarity. There are Poles in Poland, and then there are “true” Poles. If you’re not one of them, you’re not really a Pole – you’re fake, a merely “Polish-speaking” person. You would think there would be some “authorities” in a country like this (that is – people with authority, i.e. influential ones). But then again, there are “true authorities”, and everybody else is not worth being listened to. There are politicians and “true” politicians. There are artists and “true” artists. There are even a few heroes from times now gone, but then there are “true” heroes, of course.

    Wałęsa may have been the original leader of the movement, but he’s not a “true” hero, i.e. he doesn’t have the blessing of those who have claimed the “True” label. He’s not one of them and will never be, even if he goes on and installs a multi-party democracy in China. What you’ve done is not a measure of how “true” you are. You’re only “true” if the “true” people said so.

    You don’t belong to the “true” tribe by default. You need to be like them. You need to be loyal and share their values.

    And, of course, the “true” tribe claims rights to all symbols. The Solidarity logo, the natonial flag, the anthem, you name it. It’s all theirs, in their opinion because they’re true and you and me are fake so we don’t deserve it.

    The “true” people will do all they can to destroy what they can’t have (e.g. because they didn’t invent it). For instance, after 20 years, they still hate Jerzy Owsiak and The Great Christmas Aid Orchestra. It’s not theirs, so it evil by definition.

    This isn’t the first time they’re slinging mud at those from outside their tribe, and you bet it’s not the last. The worst part of it is that they actually believe in every word they say. You can’t even reason with them, or try and find some common ground, because they actually don’t want to have any common ground with you. Submit or get out.

    You could only reclaim Solidarity over their dead bodies. Literally, I’m afraid.

  2. In the Solidarnosc movement there were two fractions. A liberal fraction which wanted an independent “liberal Poland” (now represented by PO) and a conservative fraction which wanted an independent “social-conservative Poland” (now represented by PIS). And after Poland became a free democracy, the two fractions finally can argue with each other and do not need to fight “united” vs. the communists. And this is exactly what democracy is about and exactly what they wanted.

    And BTW you can not have both. You can not have strong revolutionist characters who then behave like “little sweet angels” after the revolution is over. This kind of “healthy” agressiveness is in their nature and we should accept it.

  3. Well, it’s not only in Poland with the “true” stuff. The same thing actually happens now in US, with the “tea party” and all…

  4. > Jerzy Owsiak and The Great Christmas Aid Orchestra

    Erm, personally I’m not sure if this is the best choice of an example. I’d classify the Orchestra as a completely different kind of thing than the Solidarity movement.

    But then that would be just my opinion.

  5. I feel it’s horrendous that things like patriotism, Solidarity and Polishness have been hijacked by radical right-wingers. This minority dictates what is means to be a Polish patriot these days. Thankfully, they are not in power anymore, but the damage they have done continues to plague the country. Wałęsa was right in the early 90’s when he said that Solidarity as a social movement should disband and there should be a trade union with a new name (he suggested Solidność – reliability). Regretably, Solidarność has carried on, losing it’s power and virtue along the way. Today, Kaczyński exercises his manipulation skills to use what’s left of Solidarity in order to destroy what was great about it in the beginning and in this way serve his narrow-minded political agenda. I think we should no longer associate today’s Solidarity with what it used to be. It’s just the name that’s left.

  6. I think Solidarity should exist no more. Everybody should shake each other hands and say: well done. And that’s it. Present Solidarity is an empty sign, means nothing. Let’s leave it in history as a great sign and movement and don’t ruin it by behavior of todays members and ex-members.

    Btw If Walesa keep his mouth shut and stay out of public life he might be still concidered as a hero…

  7. Most Poles that rant to me about Lech give him a 50% score. They think he was important in strengthening Solidarity, but they also think he was a communist informer and a rat. Interesting dichotomy, actually.

  8. My father-in-law liked Wałęsa, which is all I need to be on his side, although being the working class hero in a a fundamentally elitist country has strong attractions as well.. However, your original post shows some of the oddities about the whole situation: ‘Walesa said that Solidarity should “pack up its banners,” criticising that the trade union has become far too politicised.’ The whole fame and reputation of Solidarity is based solidly on the premise that was a powerful political organisation. It helped rid Poland of its (non true-Polish) communist leadership. The concept that it has become far too politicised is really weird and really just reflects Wałęsa’s differences with the politics of the organisation. I also doubt the idea that it has been ‘hijacked’ by right wingers. I suspect the truth is that it remains the stronghold of the powerful nationalist emotions it started out with, whilst Poland has changed to far greater balance between ‘liberal Poland’ (with its far more international outlook), and ‘social-conservative Poland’ (still ultra-nationalist).

    This seems to suggest that Solidarity is just lagging behind, which may then suggest that it can change and become more relevant as a trade union and social organisation. Wałęsa’s view, as reported by Dawid, that Solidarity should end its social work and become a purely trade union organisation, may well be the real route for the future. However, it is Solidarity’s continuing social activities that make it special to me. (Its politics are just part of TV entertainment.) It is rather like coming from England to Poland and finding that one of the Church’s primary objectives is to help people in their everyday lives and not just preaching and prayers. For Solidarity (or Reliability) to suffer the same fate of the British trade unions will be regrettable.

  9. @Steve: when there were no freedom political ambitions of free trade union was seen as sth good.

    When there is democracy there’s no need to fight with system by striking. Striking in the public sector now is just waste of tax payers money.

    Most people I know feel that Solidarity sold to the government and to the “big minorities” like dock workers, miners, teachers, etc.

    I don’t know do you mean by social activities of Solidarity, from what I can see it’s mostly organising free vacations for trade union members and families, creating traffic jams in Warsaw and getting more of my taxes for another broken national monopolist. Solidarity was great when there was common enemy.

  10. There are social centres scattered around Poland – I remember the one in Kielce – where community support activities take place and are organised eg assisting the poor. I have no idea about the level of significance of this activity, so perhaps I overrate it.

  11. Yea, there’s democracy now, so nobody will try to take advantage of anybody else. Owners of companies now never think of taking advantage of employees in any way. In fact, they only care about their workers’ happiness — profit be damned!

  12. Please don’t compare Solidarity to such common bandits like Fidel & Che!

    Personally, I think that Solidarity’s weakness is our greatest achievement. Otherwise we _would_ have our own Fidel or Che, and that would be a tragedy. The communists already were Fidels and Ches on their own. They won a revolution, remember? And yes, they remained strong, and their 30th anniversary was a huge celebration. So let’s just be thankful that we’re spared.

    It’s very easy to make a revolution, it’s very difficult to make democracy afterwards. Actually, looking back to the French Revolution and similar events, there aren’t many nations that achieved it so easily. The usual scenario is terror, a reactionary movement, and a return of regime in a lighter form. Look at Ukraine, Belarus or Russia. The fact that Solidarity means little today and that Poles came through a political chaos (there have been nearly 100 political parties for the last 20 years) and pauperisation of a significant number of people, without any strong movement coming to force really speaks of our maturity more than any public celebration.

  13. Of course people take advantage of each other – that’s how people are wired, no amount of ideology will change it.

    That’s the main reason why giving more control over people to other people is bad – like in a socialism, for example.

    It is bad, because some of these people will take exploit others, and those at the bottom won’t even be able to emigrate to stop it.

    Now you can change the government if you can persuade others it is necessary, you can emigrate if you can’t find good job here. What you do with that freedom is your concern.

  14. @ odzrut: Certain kinds of capitalism can stymy democracy just as can certain kinds of socialism. Monopoly capitalism certainly empowers the rich with more control over government and others in society. And not all forms of socialism are bad. Do you think things like unemployment insurance, public health care, social security, public libraries, public roads, public museums, public parks, national mouments, etc. are all so bad?

  15. the thing with Polish politics is it is very much like the worlds Philip K. Dick created in his novels – most things are not as they seem including Lech Walesa – there are layers and layers of delusion

  16. What’s that nutcase up to now then, eh? Calling for the President and Prime Minister to get out of politics and mumbling about Russians again.

    I swear the man is seriously ill in the head. He needs medical attention preferably while locked up in a soundproof room a long way from Warsaw.

    “They’re coming to take me away, ha ha!”

  17. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Poland: Solidarność 1980 vs. Solidarność 2010

  18. Pingback: Fly to Poland » Blog archive » Poland: Solidarność 1980 vs. Solidarność 2010

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